Ata Mayedi is Director Business Consulting & Strategy with a retail focus at US digital consultancy Publicis Sapient. He sees the fashion industry at a turning point. In his comment he explains the reasons why.
"Over the past months, stores were closed for weeks. Products started piling up in the stocks while new ones were already on their way to be delivered. Revenues have dropped despite the significant increase in online sales, and the massive discounts given to accelerate sales started harming the brand image. To cope with the situation, management attention and resources shifted towards digital initiatives to improve online operations and sales. But for online to catch-up, it will take further time. To emerge from the next crisis in a position of strength, the fashion industry needs to digitalize its value chain.
One of the greatest potentials offered is through digital product creation, which often remains untapped. It is an essential lever amongst others to become sustainable, minimizing pollution and waste, preventing the unnecessary waste of hundreds of thousands of throwaway physical swatches, prototypes, and samples every season. It can shorten the current lengthy concept-to-shelf process by months, optimizing agility to reacting to changing trends, conditions, demand, and market. It finally makes the creation process incremental, which allows the flow of regular feedback from customers and consumers to refine ideas, revisit design and development activities to deliver products that better reflect what consumers want. It enables new approaches to improve consumer experience and create a seamless experience between online and offline.
To capture the opportunity, the impact of digital product creation on these three dimensions of improvement needs to be re-assessed.
People will make or break the implementation. Their capabilities and willingness to adopt is the foundation for success and requires careful and continuous management of change. Notably, the designers will play a decisive role in this transformation. It starts with the sketches, which are typically created on paper, and ends with the final design, which today requires several physical concepts and prototypes before it can be approved for further development. To make the transformation possible, designers will need 3D experts to create the product's virtual model. They will also become crucial members of the team going further and bridge between designers, product engineers, and suppliers. Still, designers need to be upskilled and trained to gain the necessary understanding of 3D to support their creative process and design leadership.
Digital Creation will disrupt the concept-to-shelf process, empowering further creativity and speed by allowing early incorporation of feedback of key customers and consumers. Companies will face the decision of how they size scope. They either need to start big with an all or nothing approach or small to create quick results and learn before they scale. But a common mistake is to start too small or focus on too small of a collection that will make the benefits neglectable compared to the efforts necessary to make it happen - especially if done in parallel to the old physical creation process. Suppliers are also often ignored in the new process definition even though they could play a decisive role and take over a significant part of the product engineering directly.
Digitizing the core is as critical a component as deciding which new creation tools to use. It should be noted that the 3D application landscape is fragmented, and there is still a lack of standardization. Not one tool meets all requirements or expectations; hence a trial and error approach will be inevitable but should be carefully managed.
The fashion industry needs to change the outdated creation process, which is ripe for a fundamental change. It's now or never!